HAP Blog

Whether Virtual or In-Person, Exercises are Key to Preparedness

July 29, 2022

Exercising has always been a part of a hospital’s preparedness.

These activities take many forms: drill, functional, full-scale, or even a tabletop. With the COVID-19 pandemic, a new format has increased in popularity: virtual.

Emergency planning exercises are nothing new for hospitals and they didn’t stop because of the pandemic. The fact that we are facing a public health emergency doesn’t stop other disasters from happening. In fact, emergencies have occurred at some facilities throughout the state.

It’s important to be prepared. So what’s the best way to make sure we are prepared? Exercising!

What has changed during the pandemic and still differs between hospitals is how planning exercises are conducted. Functional or full-scale exercising may involve fewer staff or include specific precautions to ensure staff safety. Tabletop exercises probably look a lot different than those in the good old days of a larger group gathering around tables or in a conference room or even in an auditorium faced with a scenario and talking out what will be done.

The pandemic moved many of these types of exercises into a virtual format. Instead of gathering around a table in a conference room or auditorium, attendees now find themselves in front of a computer screen. With the capabilities of such services as Zoom, Teams, WebEx, and so on, we are now able to host these same tabletop exercises from our office, or even the comfort and safety of our own home.

But are they the same?

The Emergency Management team at HAP and HAPevolve have facilitated both types of exercises—virtual and in-person. In my opinion, a tabletop is a tabletop whether it is done virtually or in-person. I know there remains plenty of debate in this area. Yes, I do get that you lose the face-to-face interactions and water cooler conversations that are beneficial in an in-person setting. However, the meat and potatoes of the exercise is still delivered and outcomes similar.

One challenge with virtual tabletop exercises is that you are at the mercy of your Internet connection and technology. However, each format has its tradeoffs of what could fail. In the end though, a virtual tabletop exercise is another tool in our toolbox to test our plans and identify their strengths and weaknesses.

Regardless of the format, what’s important is that we’re prepared.

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